It's simple: No return, no rebate

Richard McMullen plodded through the bowels of the basement of Rock Hill City Hall this week looking for help.

The 57-year-old U.S. Army veteran lives on his monthly Veterans Affairs check. The money is enough to get by, but when Uncle Sam is offering up to $600 more, wandering the halls of a lonely basement is worth it.

"Every little bit helps," he said with a soft smile.

McMullen is one of thousands of area residents who normally don't file income tax returns because their income isn't taxable. But because they don't file a return, they're at risk of missing out on the federal economic stimulus payments of up to $600 scheduled to be paid this summer. Filing a tax return is the only way to qualify for the money.

So McMullen, and others like him, must file a simple tax form, Form 1040A, to claim their share of the cash.

That's why he was hiking through the basement of City Hall. A free Internal Revenue Service program called VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) has set up shop in the City Hall Wellness Center to help seniors, veterans and the disabled claim their stimulus money. The trained volunteers also help low-income taxpayers complete tax returns.

Bill Perry, the VITA coordinator for York County, said the program is getting busier as the April 15 deadline to file approaches.

"They just keep coming," Perry said, noting VITA volunteers serve up to 80 people daily. "The IRS says if you don't file, you don't get paid."

As gas prices, energy rates and food costs continue to rise, many fixed-income residents are looking forward to the stimulus money.

"I rely on Social Security, and I don't usually get a refund," said Joe Poteat, a disabled 59-year-old Rock Hill man who filed his form with VITA help this week. "The stimulus check is a nice little extra."

Perry said he expects crowds to grow through next week as more residents who don't normally file tax returns realize they need help to get the stimulus check.

"It's a wonderful thing for people who can't afford a tax preparer," Perry said. "There's no charge. Just a thank you."